By Ian McMurtry
By land or sea, the lost era of Paradise Island airports
As post-pandemic society craves vacations, it can be seen that the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort will once again become that must-see international resort that Americans will turn to. As bookings already reach over 90% occupancy, those flying to Paradise Island will default to Lynden Pindling International Airport to access the island. However, in previous years access to the island resort town has been made much easier by the various iterations of the Paradise Island airport.
Formed with the creation of Atlantis, the Paradise Island sea base was quickly accessed by the legendary Bahamian and Florida carrier Chalk’s Ocean Airways, who flew to the sea base with Grumman Goose planes. The aircraft were ordered to land in the port of Nassau and taxi ashore with a small patch of concrete and a hangar connecting the maritime operations aircraft to Paradise Beach Drive. Private seaplanes and helicopters had access to the platforms, with enough room for limited aircraft storage for island guests. It was around this time that Chalk’s was purchased by Merv Griffin’s Resorts International, who owned the Paradise Island Resort and Casino, a resort on the other side of the island. Over time, Griffin’s would create massive plans for the small airport.
Under Merv’s leadership, a surge in the late 1980s saw the construction of a new airfield for operations on the island. Resorts International would construct a 3,000-foot runway for ground operations on the east side of the airport, ideally positioning the airport closer to the Resorts International property while remaining competitive for Atlantis vacationers. The land aerodrome would take the name of New Providence Airport and would even have its own ICAO and IATA codes of PID and MYPI, respectively.
At the time, Chalk Ocean Airways project manager Bill Jones commented on the change, saying: “There is a demand for more seats and you can’t have a seaplane on the water at night.”
The launch of a new land airport in 1989 would be accompanied by the creation of a new airline to complete the aerodrome. Using its own operating certificate and operating as a subsidiary of Chalk’s, Paradise Island Airlines would begin operations on March 24, 1989 on the island of the same name.
Using a trio of De Havilland Dash 7s, the airline would prioritize flights to Florida, leaving Chalk’s to serve domestic routes to the airport. By this point, Chalk’s had upgraded its fleet from Grumman Goose to Grumman Mallards. The airline served Paradise Island from North Bimini and Cat Cay, with total passengers reaching 127,000 travelers per year. These figures were to double with the introduction of the new airline and the possibility of offering night flights. According to an article at the time, the two carriers offer flat rates of around $ 125 round trip, around $ 271 today.
For the new airline, Paradise Island Airlines offering initial flights to Fort. Lauderdale and Miami, both in daily service. Further expansions in recent years would see West Palm Beach and Orlando International added to try to expand the presence in the region. Codeshare and express operations are said to be carried out with US Air and Carnival Air Lines, both of which have attempted to increase the reach of Paradise Island.
Despite the addition of a De Havilland DHC-6 to the fleet, Paradise Island Airlines, the island itself and Chalk’s were problematic for Resort International. In 1996, both airlines were divested to U.S. investors and ownership of the Paradise Island Hotel was transferred to Sun International as the company went through various issues including a Chapter 11 restructuring in 1994.
The airport and airlines continued to operate in the mid-1990s with little success. Airlines have been beaten among investors every two years, with one even renaming Chalk’s to Pan Am Air Bridge in an attempt to arouse nostalgia in the American public. The renowned airline maintained its flight schedule, maintaining the operations of the former Ft. Of Chalk. Flight Lauderdale-Miami (Seabase) -Bimini-New Providence.
Even when ownership changed, the story continued to bog down and evolve into inevitable decline. After only ten years of service, Paradise Island Airlines was shut down and the airport would close in favor of developing the property into private homes. Paradise Island Airlines ceased operations before the end of 1999, leaving the now renamed Chalk’s to take refuge in the sea base it had used in the 1970s and 1980s. Paradise Island’s DHC-7 fleet would be transferred. in new accommodations at Gulfstream International Airlines and the operating certificate would be issued a few years later in 2003. While the DHC-7s were scrapped, the only DHC-6 operated by the company would find new homes and still operate. today for Manta Air in the Maldives as 8Q-RAB.
In the years following the suspension of service, the airport would be broken down over time and redeveloped into an extension for the Ocean Club Resort and Golf Course. Nothing remains of the old airfield, which has since been replaced by vacation homes considered prime real estate on the island with limited space.
Back at the sea base, Chalk’s would linger for another five years until the mid-flight breakdown of flight 101 off the coast of Miami brought the airline to a halt in 2005. Chalk’s would attempt to resume its flight but a certificate was issued. Revoked operation and a financially failing carrier would combine to prevent the airline from honoring Heaven again. After the lone transporter disappeared, the island moved forward with the dismantling of the marine base, but has yet to turn the old concrete slab into anything of economic value to the island.
The closure of the Paradise Island sea base ended a more than thirty-year history of air operations on the island. With limited options, air traffic from the end of the sea base turned to the main Nassau airport, about 40 minutes from the resorts and homes that shared space with the abandoned airfield. And although on the spot, nothing really leaves a trace of the old provisions, the airport codes of the ICAO and the IATA still go back to the airport of New Providence without any replacement being given to the codes in the years that followed. But following the loss of the Paradise Island airports, Nassau’s main hub continued to hold on and grow, serving between 3.0 and 4.0 million passengers per year in the decade leading up to COVID-19. and renovating the airport to accommodate up to 5.0 million passengers. one year if demand is needed.